Not flashy but productive, Sloan might best be described as " Bear's kind of player"—which is the way one Deep South newspaperman puts it. He was the second-leading runner for Alabama a year ago with 351 yards and completed his passes at a 62.5 clip for 574 yards. With the job solely his, Sloan can be expected to improve these figures. Although it is a good year in the Southeastern Conference for quarterbacks with Steve Spurrier at Florida, Rick Norton at Kentucky and Pat Screen at LSU, Sloan may well be the most effective of them all. No one around Alabama is ever surprised when one of the Tide's own turns out to be tops at something.
Except Bear, of course. Bear Bryant is constantly amazed that his poor little old boys at ALABAMA can stay on the same field with folks like Florida and LSU and Ole Miss and Auburn and Georgia. Bear would not con anybody. Every week last year he said he thought the Tide would lose, yet every week they won—surprise, surprise—and his explanations ranged from, "I didn't know Joe would be able to play and blow in a couple for us," to, "This bunch doesn't have much ability, but they sure like to butt people."
It was an unusual Bryant team in that the running game was not sound. It struck mostly through the air and had trouble controlling the ball, but the same old, tough defense was there. This time—with Namath gone—Bryant has rebuilt the ground game. Sloan is an even better runner than he is a thrower. Fullback Steve Bowman returns and, though he does not have exceptional speed, he hits hard. Alabama coaches like to think of him as perhaps the league's best. Les Kelley, 210 pounds, has moved to left half and adds even more power.
At halfbacks Alabama has the two best runners and receivers that Bear has known. They are Wayne Trimble, 6 feet 3, 195 pounds, and David Ray, 190 pounds, the faster of the two and also the placement kicker. Trimble has everything—good speed, power, hands and moves. He can even play quarterback if Sloan proves at times ineffective. Together, Sloan, Bowman, Trimble and Kelley constitute the best running attack, potentially, that Bryant has had since his Texas A&M days when he had John David Crow and Jack Pardee.
The first-rate talent holds up at the ends, with Tommy Tolleson and Ray Perkins, at center, where Paul Crane is back, and at linebacker, where Alabama has Tim Bates and Jackie Sherrill—and Crane. After this comes youth.
Defensively, Alabama will have the youngest unit, as far as its playing experience is concerned, that Bryant has been forced to employ in several years. There are, in fact, 51 sophomores on the squad, but Alabama sophomores are always good and eager, and 14 of these are red shirts—not sophomores at all. Which is to say they played a lot of football in practice last year, grew up to junior size and have two more years to play after this one. The only consolation Bryant's future opponents can get out of this news is that he may accept the governorship of the state. If he does, and gives up coaching, too—he has not said he would—they may just possibly beat Alabama next year.
The Alabama schedule is not as tough as it seems at first glance. Old Miss has been added, yes. And LSU in Baton Rouge on November 6 may be the biggest game of the year. But Alabama does not play Florida or Kentucky, the other members of the Southeastern Conference's power structure for 1965. Overall it should be another good year in Tuscaloosa—a cinch 8-2, a probable 9-1 and a highly possible 10-0, then off to whatever bowl Bear chooses.
LSU has to play all of the conference toughies—not only Alabama, but mortal enemy Ole Miss, Florida and Kentucky as well. The saving factor is that Coach Charley McClendon's Tigers get the Tide and Kentucky and five other foes—seven out of their 10 games—at home in that nightmarish den called Tiger Stadium. Another saver is that LSU is brimming over with muscles. Just about everybody is back from last year's 8-2-1 season, at the end of which LSU defeated Syracuse in the Sugar Bowl.
McClendon, entering his fourth season as the man who followed Paul Dietzel, has been a success by almost anybody's standards, but not by a Louisianian's. He has had three bowl teams in three tries and no record worse than 7-4. That is not considered good enough in Baton Rouge. McClendon's critics, perhaps a bit spoiled by Dietzel, point out that the Tigers have failed to win a national championship; also they have not moved the ball. For example, LSU scored just 11 touchdowns in 10 games in 1964, always falling back on the good old reliable defense. This is the year it is supposed to explode.